Monday, July 2, 2012

Harmon's Next Steps

As those of you who were watching the Minnesota Bound nest cam over the weekend already know, Harmon did leave the nest for the first time (on his own) early Saturday evening. Throughout the next few hours, he did come back several times. This is all very common and normal. The nest is the only “home” he’s known, and while he is making small flights to explore his world, the nest represents familiarity. It is possible he might visit again, though far less frequently as he gains confidence and masters the physics of flight.

When eagles (or any other raptors) “fledge”, they are adult-size and weight. They might appear a bit bigger than their parents, however, as their feathers are just a bit longer. It is generally accepted/recognized that in the first year of life, eagles’ flight feathers are a bit longer in comparison to the same feathers on adult birds. This extra length gives them a bit more stabilization and wing surface area to make learning to fly a bit easier, much like having training wheels on a bike for us as we learn that particular skill.

When eagles molt, or replace their worn feathers with new ones in subsequent years, not only will those flight feathers be a bit shorter after the first year, but head, tail and wing feathers in particular will look much different. Pictured here are the same feathers (primary #2) from an adult eagle (first), and a juvenile (second picture). See the pattern in the juvenile’s feather? It is often hard to see unless the wing is outstretched. Each juvenile, while the shape of the feather will be the same, will have subtle differences in the pattern of the feather, and as they molt, that primary will look different until it is an adult.


  1. This was really helpful. I missed seeing Harmon. I wish you would comment on the parents. When did the mother and father last seem to be visiting Harmon on a regular basis? I just would like to know more about their contact with him. Thanks.

  2. Hello, Carol. There is not a camera other than on the nest so we cannot give you specifics, but in our experience, eagle parents do stay in the area of where their youngsters hatched at least until fall. They have put much work into raising their young and so will continue to assist in feeding him until he gradually learns to do this on his own.

  3. 2 questions: I have often heard it said that juvies are larger than their parents because they carry more feathers. Is this true? Also, are we expected to see Harmon's "flight feathers" somewhat shorter than an adults? And if so, will this make it more difficult for Harmon to fly until those feathers are replaced by longer adult flight feathers?